Twins trade 2-time All-Star pitcher José Berríos to Toronto

José Berríos
Getty Images
0 Comments

MINNEAPOLIS — Despite all the speculation that surrounded Jose Berrios this month, with the Minnesota Twins nowhere near contention and ready to reload for the future, the right-hander wasn’t ready to accept he could be traded.

The news that he was heading to Toronto on Friday brought him and his wife to tears.

Then came the really hard part, having to break the news to their three children that he was joining the Blue Jays in a deadline-day deal that sent two highly rated minor leaguers to the Twins.

“I know that it will be hard because this year, they are bigger. They are growing up. They know more about life and also some people,” Berrios said, predicting the greatest difficulty for 7-year-old daughter Valentina.

Soon-to-be-5-year-old Sebastian and 3-year-old Diego had grown fond of Minneapolis and their friends there, too.

Berrios, drafted 32nd overall by the Twins in 2012, debuted with Minnesota in 2015. Though Puerto Rico was their home, he and his wife, Jannieliz, became strongly rooted in the community. He worked hard to be able to speak English effectively. Berrios felt strongly enough about the Twins that he asked the team’s senior director of communications, Dustin Morse, to arrange a farewell Zoom session with reporters.

“When you’ve got your first team or your first time in everything, that’s where I made my MLB debut, so it’s going to be in my heart all my life,” Berrios said from St. Louis, where he had been scheduled to start a three-game series against the Cardinals.

Instead, the playoff-chasing Blue Jays won the aggressive pursuit for the two-time All-Star, who was one of the most attractive players available on the market. They parted with infielder/outfielder Austin Martin and right-hander Simeon Woods Richardson for the 27-year-old Berrios.

Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins called it “a fair assessment” that Berrios was one of Toronto’s top deadline targets.

“We felt as though the value was worth it,” Atkins said. “The opportunity to acquire Berrios was exciting for us and a very difficult decision, not something that we just walked into. Austin Martin will be a great player and Simeon Woods Richardson is going to be a great pitcher, and we’re going to be pulling for them. This was just an opportunity that we wanted to take.

“We knew the price was going to be high,” Atkins said. “Working through our system with not only the Twins but with other teams, there were clear targets that the entire industry was focused on. Fortunately, we had enough of them to meet the mark.”

Left-handed reliever Brad Hand, traded from Washington to Toronto in a deal Thursday, was excited to see Berrios join him north of the border.

“I spent two and a half years in Cleveland so I saw him a lot in Minnesota,” Hand said. “He’s a great pitcher, a guy that can really carry a pitching staff at times. That was a big add to get here.”

The Blue Jays began the day at 51-48, in the fifth spot chasing two AL wild-card slots with a 4 1/2-game deficit to make up.

“We believe we haven’t played our best baseball yet,” Atkins said.” Hopefully those days are here upon us.”

Also on Friday, Toronto acquired right-hander Joakim Soria from Arizona for two players to be named.

Berrios was 7-5 with a 3.48 ERA in 20 starts for the Twins this season, their unquestioned ace who has been as durable as any pitcher in the game and remains under team control through the 2022 season.

“We’re thinking about next year, too,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “A guy like Berrios is one of the best starters in baseball. And now we’ve got control over him next year also.”

The sadness of leaving Minnesota aside, the opportunity to return to a postseason race will help stem the blow a bit for Berrios.

“They are competing and trying to get that push to the playoffs. I’m so happy to be part of that, and I’m going to put myself in the best position to help that team to make that this year,” he said.

Berrios has struck out 126 in 121 2/3 innings this season and held opponents to a .213 batting average. He was 55-43 with a 4.08 ERA in his career with Minnesota.

Dealing Berrios will set a struggling rotation back even further in the short term, but the Twins had leverage, with so many teams seeking high-end starting pitching. Minnesota decided to hasten the reset process for 2022 and beyond after this disappointing season on the heels of two straight AL Central titles.

“We were setting a high bar for a lot of these conversations,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said after the deadline passed.

The 22-year-old Martin hit .281 with a .424 on-base percentage and scored 43 runs in 55 games for Double-A New Hampshire. This is his first pro season after being drafted fifth overall in 2020 out of Vanderbilt, where he helped win the College World Series in 2019. Martin was ranked this year by MLB.com as the second-best prospect in Toronto’s system and the 16th-best prospect in the minor leagues. He played for the American League in the All-Star Futures Games this month at Coors Field. That AL side was managed by Twins special assistant LaTroy Hawkins.

The 20-year-old Woods Richardson was 2-4 with a 5.76 ERA in 11 starts for Double-A New Hampshire. Listed 68th overall in MLB.com’s prospect rankings, Woods Richardson is now playing for the United States in the Olympics in Tokyo with fellow pitcher Joe Ryan, who was acquired by the Twins last week in a trade that sent slugger Nelson Cruz to Tampa Bay. Woods Richardson was a second-round draft pick in 2018 by the New York Mets, who dealt him to Toronto in the trade for pitcher Marcus Stroman in 2019.

The Twins also traded two other pitchers on deadline day, sending starter J.A. Happ to St. Louis and reliever Hansel Robles to Boston.

Berrios was one of the few homegrown pitchers the Twins had successfully drafted and developed over the last two decades, but they’d been unable to secure him to a long-term contract and weren’t prepared to try to outbid for him on the open market if he were to reach free agency next year. So they took advantage of his hot market this summer and took another step toward restocking.

With Ryan, Woods Richardson and Drew Strotman, who was also recently acquired from the Rays for Cruz, the Twins have three more viable options for their future rotation.

One player the Twins hung onto was oft-injured center fielder Byron Buxton, whom they’ve also not yet been able to sign to an extension. Falvey said the Twins received plenty of interest in the multi-skilled Buxton, but not enough to warrant moving him.

“We’re just going to continue to focus right now on him getting as healthy as possible, get him back on the field, and getting him playing for us,” Falvey said.

Yankees star Judge hits 61st home run, ties Maris’ AL record

aaron judge
Cole Burston/Getty Images
2 Comments

TORONTO — Aaron Judge tied Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run drive for the New York Yankees in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old slugger drove a 94.5 mph belt-high sinker with a full-count from left-hander Tim Mayza over the left-field fence at Rogers Centre. The 117.4 mph drive took just 3.8 seconds to land 394 feet from the plate, and it put the Yankees ahead 5-3.

Judge watched the ball clank off the front of the stands, just below two fans who reached over a railing and tried for a catch. He pumped an arm just before reaching first and exchanged a slap with coach Travis Chapman.

The ball dropped into Toronto’s bullpen and was picked up by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, who turned it over to the Yankees.

Judge’s mother and Roger Maris Jr. rose and hugged from front-row seats. He appeared to point toward them after rounding second base, then was congratulated by the entire Yankees team, who gave him hugs after he crossed the plate.

Judge moved past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league mark until Maris broke it in 1961. All three stars reached those huge numbers playing for the Yankees.

Barry Bonds holds the big league record of 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001.

Judge had gone seven games without a home run – his longest drought this season was nine in mid-August. This was the Yankees’ 155th game of the season, leaving them seven more in the regular season.

The home run came in the fourth plate appearance of the night for Judge, ending a streak of 34 plate appearances without a home run.

Judge is hitting .313 with 130 RBIs, also the top totals in the AL. He has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Maris hit No. 61 for the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1961, against Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard.

Maris’ mark has been exceeded six times, but all have been tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year, and Bonds topped him. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 during a four-season span starting in 1998.

McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans – perhaps many – until now have considered Maris the holder of the “clean” record.

Among the tallest batters in major league history, the 6-foot-7 Judge burst on the scene on Aug. 13, 2016, homering off the railing above Yankee Stadium’s center-field sports bar and into the netting above Monument Park. He followed Tyler Austin to the plate and they become the first teammates to homer in their first major league at-bats in the same game.

Judge hit 52 homers with 114 RBIs the following year and was a unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Injuries limited him during the following three seasons, and he rebounded to hit 39 homers with 98 RBIs in 2021.

As he approached his last season before free agent eligibility, Judge on opening day turned down the Yankees’ offer of an eight-year contract worth from $230.5 million to $234.5 million. The proposal included an average of $30.5 million annually from 2023-29, with his salary this year to be either the $17 million offered by the team in arbitration or the $21 million requested by the player.

An agreement was reached in June on a $19 million, one-year deal, and Judge heads into this offseason likely to get a contract from the Yankees or another team for $300 million or more, perhaps topping $400 million.

Judge hit six homers in April, 12 in May and 11 in June. He earned his fourth All-Star selection and entered the break with 33 homers. He had 13 homers in July and dropped to nine in August, when injuries left him less protected in the batting order and pitchers walked him 25 times.

He became just the fifth player to hold a share of the AL season record. Nap Lajoie hit 14 in the AL’s first season as a major league in 1901, and Philadelphia Athletics teammate Socks Seabold had 16 the next year, a mark that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919. Ruth set the record four times in all, with 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 and 60 in 1927, a mark that stood until Maris’ 61 in 1961.

Maris was at 35 in July 1961 during the first season each team’s schedule increased from 154 games to 162, and baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled if anyone topped Ruth in more than 154 games “there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.”

That “distinctive mark” became known as an “asterisk” and it remained until Sept. 4, 1991, when a committee on statistical accuracy chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record holder.